Ocean Heat may be Underestimated

November 2, 2018

New research amplifies what Lijing Cheng told me last year.

Washington Post:

The world’s oceans have been soaking up far more excess heat in recent decades than scientists realized, suggesting that Earth could be set to warm even faster than predicted in the years ahead, according to new research published Wednesday.

Over the past quarter-century, Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than scientists previously had thought, said Laure Resplandy, a geoscientist at Princeton University who led the startling study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The difference represents an enormous amount of additional energy, originating from the sun and trapped by Earth’s atmosphere — the yearly amount representing more than eight times the world’s annual energy consumption.

In the scientific realm, the new findings help resolve long-running doubts about the rate of the warming of the oceans before 2007, when reliable measurements from devices called “Argo floats” were put to use worldwide. Before that, differing types of temperature records — and an overall lack of them — contributed to murkiness about how quickly the oceans were heating up.

The higher-than-expected amount of heat in the oceans means more heat is being retained within Earth’s climate system each year, rather than escaping into space. In essence, more heat in the oceans signals that global warming is more advanced than scientists thought.

“We thought that we got away with not a lot of warming in both the ocean and the atmosphere for the amount of CO2 that we emitted,” said Resplandy, who published the work with experts from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and several other institutions in the United States, China, France and Germany. “But we were wrong. The planet warmed more than we thought. It was hidden from us just because we didn’t sample it right. But it was there. It was in the ocean already.”

Wednesday’s study also could have important policy implications. If ocean temperatures are rising more rapidly than previously calculated, that could leave nations even less time to dramatically cut the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, in the hope of limiting global warming to the ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels by the end of this century.

The world already has warmed one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 19th century. Scientists backed by the United Nations reported this month that with warming projected to steadily increase, the world faces a daunting challenge in trying to limit that warming to only another half-degree Celsius. The group found that it would take “unprecedented” action by leaders across the globe over the coming decade to even have a shot at that goal.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has continued to roll back regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions from vehicles, coal plants and other sources and has said it intends to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. In one instance, the administration relied on an assumption that the planet will warm a disastrous seven degrees Fahrenheit, or about four degrees Celsius, by the end of the century in arguing that a proposal to ease vehicle fuel-efficiency standards would have only minor climate impacts.

The new research underscores the potential consequences of global inaction. Rapidly warming oceans mean that seas will rise faster and that more heat will be delivered to critical locations that already are facing the effects of a warming climate, such as coral reefs in the tropics and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.

9 Responses to “Ocean Heat may be Underestimated”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:


    Are climate scientists not checking their math? “You got some splain-ing to doooo Lucy!”

    60% error is gigantic. Why were we not reading about “The Giant Missing 60% Heat Problem” decades ago?

    I mean, we KNOW the output of the Sun, we know how much heat the Earth re-radiates back to space, we know what our thermometers tell us about air and water temperatures. We are off by a titanic amount of heat.

    Why isn’t the grievous inaccuracy of the heat stoichiometry the issue?

    • Kevin Boyce Says:

      From the abstract: “Our result—which relies on high-precision O2 measurements dating back to 19916—suggests that ocean warming is at the high end of previous estimates…”

      From the paper, which may be behind a paywall… As it says above, since the deployment of the ARGO fleet the numbers are pretty tightly grouped, and this new one is consistent with the high end. The 60% number is about pre-ARGO estimates, and appears to be relative to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) estimate. The Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) pre-ARGO estimate is just about dead-on with this one.

      So it’s not so much the numbers were wrong as they were very uncertain, and this provides an independent estimate that will help resolve that uncertainty. I would state it as “heat has been going into the ocean as fast as it is now for longer than we could previously be certain about. I’m not sure it really changes the numbers much on what we have to do to stay under [pick your limit].

  2. […] It’s like I just can’t put this post down. Facts are that once the Resplandy, et al (2018) paper appeared, research in to works, interviews with climate scientists, and other observations are percolating up, and we are seeing the beginning of what Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson calls an “emerging scientific truth”, that warming is not only much larger than estimated, it is accelerating. Consider this interview with Dr Lijing Cheng: […]

  3. neilrieck Says:

    Additional Info: Here is one of the best places for O2 information.


    Notice that O2 levels have been falling ever since measurements began in 1990. There are a lot of idiots out there saying that additional CO2 will make Earth’s forests explode with new life. If that assertion were true then you would expect the decline of O2 levels to taper off.

  4. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I’m thinking of Ripley’s face when she realized the aliens are getting in via the ceiling space.

  5. Abel Adamski Says:

    Every extra CO2 molecule = 2 less free Oxygen atoms

  6. redskylite Says:

    Washington Post accurately describes ocean warming study with potential implications for future carbon budget

    Analysis of “Startling new research finds large buildup of heat in the oceans, suggesting a faster rate of global warming”
    Published in The Washington Post, by Brady Dennis, Chris Mooney on 31 Oct. 2018

    Three scientists analyzed the article and estimate its overall scientific credibility to be ‘high’. A majority of reviewers tagged the article as: Accurate, Insightful, Sound reasoning.


  7. grindupbaker Says:

    “large buildup of heat in the oceans, suggesting a faster rate of global warming” is a non sequitor. When Wally Broecker coined “global warming” it was to be surface/air temperature increase, not Earth’s ecosphere (i.e. the oceans) temperature increase. You say it’s a journalistic comment “Washington Post” so he/she/they will be highly uninterested in actually stating the science properly, as per usual. However, the opposing team still has a copyrighted lock on absolutely-hilarious outright drivel and tin-foil-hat nutterism.

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